If You Suspect Abuse
The University of Michigan is committed to providing information, resources and assistance for needs related to domestic violence. Many survivors may not feel comfortable disclosing their abusive relationship to human resources or their supervisors. It is important for you to know how to respond if a friend or coworker is being abused.
You must know how to recognize possible signs of abuse. Signs that someone in your workplace is being abused may include the following:
- Unexplained injuries or injuries that do not fit the explanations of how they occurred
- Inappropriate dress/excessive make-up
- Minimization and denial of harassment or injuries
- Sensitivity about home life or hints of trouble at home
- Unusual absence or lateness for work
- Sudden or sustained drop in productivity
- Unusual signs of anxiety or fear
- Frequent, upsetting phone calls, flowers, gifts at the workplace
- Isolation, unusual quietness, keeping away from others
Here are some ideas about how to talk to a coworker if you are worried about them:
- You: I am worried about you. You seemed pretty upset today after that phone call. And last week, I noticed a bruise on your arm.
- Coworker: Oh, it was nothing, really.
- You: Are you sure? I'm concerned about you - I thought that maybe someone hurt you.
- Coworker: It was just an argument between my husband and me.
- You: No one deserves to be hurt by anybody. If you want to talk about it, I'm here to listen. I also have a phone number to a confidential help line if you wish to talk to someone to about what's happening and what you can do about it.
- If you are wrong? At the worst, your coworker knows you are a caring person.
- If you are right? If your coworker tells you that she is being abused, do the following:
- Just listen: Listening can be one of the best ways to help.
- Keep it confidential: Don't tell other people what your coworker told you. If there is a direct threat of violence at work, tell her you both need to tell the employer.
- Provide information, not advice: Give your coworker the phone number to the National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-7233 or SafeHouse 734-995-5444. Be careful about giving advice. She knows the risks she faces and is the best judge of what to do; encourage your coworker to make her own decisions.
- Be there and be patient: Coping with abuse takes time. Your coworker may not do what you expect her to do when you expect her to do it. If you think it is your job to fix the problem, you may end up feeling frustrated. Instead, focus on building trust and being supportive.
- Tell your coworker it is not her fault: Other people get hurt also, and there are resources to help.
As you talk your coworker, keep in mind that people in abusive relationships are not battered because there is something wrong with them. Rather, they are people who have become trapped in relationships by their partners' use of violence and coercion. The better able you are to recognize and build on the resilience, courage, resourcefulness and decision making abilities of a person in this situation, the better able you will be to help your coworker.
You should encourage your coworker to seek help and resources from the university by referring the survivor to appropriate resources, including FASAP, UMHS EAP, SAPAC or SafeHouse. You may also refer them to the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233. You should also encourage your coworker to obtain a personal protection order, and to provide the Department of Public Safety (DPS) with a copy of the order.
In order to understand what your coworker can expect if she would chooses to disclose to her supervisor, it may be important for you to review the procedural flowchart for supervisors. View the policy flowchart. Review the full policy.